Another overnight train journey and we arrive in Hue. All went well until early morning, when a little mouse popped his out from under our berths and made the ladies in our cabin shriek. He promptly ran off and I think he was probably more scared of us than we were of him. Heu, pronounced ‘whey’ is the ancient capital of Vietnam and I’m looking forward to visiting the Imperial Citadel complex. Our guide tells us that it often rains here, but the people are hardy. It’s one of those days today and the rain is torrential. Motorcyclists have extra big plastic macs draped over themselves and their bikes, with a clear section for the headlights. Others sit on the side streets under make shift rain canopies trying to sell their wares in the dripping rain. I grab a bright green plastic mac for 20,000 dong (about 60 pence) and we head out for the day.
The imperial city has a distinctly Chinese feel in its architecture and gardens (lots of bonsai’s) and I can’t help but feel that it would look even more stunning if it wasn’t raining so heavily. We learn about the history of the last 13 Nguyễn emperors of Vietnam and visit their palace. The rain is relentless and we start to trudge back to the bus. Some of our group, including John opt for a ‘cyclo tour’. The ‘cyclo’ looks like a giant pram which is propelled by a bike and although it looks drier, I’m not sure how much John is going to see from the top of the rain cover! The next day we have a motorbike tour. We head off as a group on the back of bikes with our matching helmets and snazzy raincoats and we zip around the city. We learn more about the history of the emperors, visit the fake tomb of emperor number 4 (It’s a long story!) and the Tien Mu pagoda. Constructed in 1844 each of its seven storeys is dedicated to a manushi-buddha (a Buddha that appeared in human form). We have a simple and delicious vegetarian lunch in the grounds of the pagoda.
The following day we are on the bus again and after a brief visit to one of the pearl farms along this stunning coast of Vietnam, we arrive in beautiful Hoi An, recently declared a world heritage site. The sun is out and after a brief orientation walk, we have some free time to explore the town, a shopping mecca, famous for its tailors, leather making and jewellery. We spend a leisurely evening strolling along the narrow alleyways by the river, the colourful lanterns add to the celebratory atmosphere. The next day we head to the beach for a day of chilling. We walk back through the rice fields and the backstreets where many of the locals go about their daily life. ‘Sin Chow’ we say as we walk past. By the end of our time in Hoi An, after a bowl of Pho Ba, a 2-1 win for Vietnam in the Asia cup (the first time they have ever reached the quarter finals), and an amazing Pho Ba (beef noodle soup, with plenty of fresh herbs and spice), I feel warmed, rested and ready for our last few days in Vietnam.